Braden Mattocks and the other seniors at Rensselaer were excited about football this past summer. A solid mix of veterans and youth were ready to make a run.
Then, a tough 49-39 opening loss to Kankakee Valley was a shocker. Two wins against North Newton and North Judson seemed to right the ship.
That's when the sailors started dropping like flies.
"We were hit with the injury bug very early," Rensselaer coach Chris Meeks said. "We lost some key two-way players that hurt us, but I have to give credit to our seniors. They helped our sophomores into the mix.
"We're fine with where we're at. We're getting healthy. We're excited to still be in the tournament."
The Bombers (5-5) will host Bowman Academy (6-4) in Friday's Class 2A Sectional 25 semifinal. In last year's sectional opener Rensselaer pounded the Eagles 52-28.
The play of Mattocks will play a big part in Friday's final. As a wide receiver, Mattocks has 36 catches for 635 yards and 9 TDs. As a defensive back he has 53 tackles, four tackles for loss and two interceptions.
Mattocks is also the Bombers' punter.
"We try not to look past any team," Mattocks said. "They have a lot of good athletes and a very good quarterback (Antonio Pipkin). We have to play our game and try to limit their big plays. That's what we were able to do last year."
Mattocks also plays basketball and baseball for the Bombers. He laughed when asked the last time he had a full week with nothing to do. He is also an A-B student.
"I do not remember the last time I had nothing to do," he said. "Time management is the key."
Unlike 2009, when the Bombers' clock-eating run game beat high-flying Wheeler 21-18 in the sectional championship, Rensselaer plans on doing it differently against the Eagles.
The Bombers had one drive against Wheeler that lasted the entire third quarter. Rensselaer quarterback Hunter Hickman has thrown for 1,400 yards.
This is not your older brother's Bombers team.
"The nice thing about Braden is he's calm, cool and collected," Meeks said. "Our seniors are on an even keel. They don't get too high or too low."
And that's just the way the young man who plans on attending St. Joseph's College in town likes it.
"Hunter and I spent a lot of time over the summer practicing," Mattocks said. "Hunter's improved a lot with his accuracy. If I can get open I know he can get me the ball."